Filming the Eichmann Trial
On Feb. 22-23, 2009, the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies hosted an international conference exploring the impact of film, radio and television broadcasts of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Videos of selected presentations are available below. An edited volume based on the conference proceedings is forthcoming.
View PDF of the Conference Program
Historians, literary critics, legal scholars, and filmmakers agree on the importance of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a high-ranking Nazi official charged with the logistics of mass deportation to the death camps. Kidnapped from Argentina by Israeli agents in 1960, Eichmann was indicted on charges of crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people in the Jerusalem District Court. His trial lasted from April 11 to Aug. 14, 1961. One hundred eleven witnesses testified in the case. Eichmann was found guilty and hanged on June 1, 1962.
The Eichmann trial is important for many reasons. It was the first transnational narrative to construct the genocide of the Jews as a distinct event of World War II, and it marked the foregrounding of victims as witnesses who produce historical accounts.
Conference participants included historians, filmmakers, media historians, film critics, and legal historians from France, Israel, England, and the United States.
Tom Hurwitz, Cinematographer
An award-winning cinematographer gives a presentation on the life of his father, Leo Hurwitz, who was the director of Eichmann trial television coverage and one of the founders of the documentary film in the United States.
In 1960, Capitol Cities Television chose Leo Hurwitz to direct the television coverage of the Eichmann Trial, to create the images that would animate this historical event in the world's memory. At that time, Leo Hurwitz was a 51-year-old documentary film maker, one of the inventors of the social documentary form in the U.S., who had been blacklisted for the previous 12 years. In Jerusalem, Hurwitz presided over virtually every decision about the trial's television coverage. This presentation covers his development and his creative work up to the trial. Why was he chosen? Who was this creative force in 1961? What were his radical roots?
Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers University
American television played a leading role in the creation of the Eichmann trial's video-documentation, and American television audiences were among the largest for this event, the first trial to be televised internationally. Televising the trial was a landmark not only of Holocaust remembrance but also of news broadcasting. Examining the challenges that presenting and watching Eichmann on American television entailed provides a revealing glimpse of this mass communications medium, of the public remembrance of the Holocaust, and of the State of Israel, all in early stages of their realization, all in the process of negotiating the complex demands of the present to reckon with an abject past.
Eyal Sivan, University of East London
A filmmaker and Reader in Media Production at the University of East London discusses issues surrounding his co-directed work about the Eichmann trial, The Specialist.
Sivan considers the relations between archival material, memory, and the representation of memory through the Eichmann trial filming and in relation to his own film work "The Specialist." Sivan, whose film explicitly draws on Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil," also addresses the controversy that his film continues to provoke.
Valerie Hartouni, UC San Diego
A professor of communications at the University of California, San Diego, considers written and cinematic commentary on Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem."
In her controversial work "Eichmann in Jerusalem," Hannah Arendt insisted that great evil is not necessarily a reflection of evil motives or an expression of natural depravity. Although Arendt sought to distinguish Eichmann's inability to think from another's point of view from conventional understandings of "empathy," much contemporary commentary persists in reading Eichmann's failure as a failure of empathetic identification. Indeed, even accounts that aim to adopt Arendt's reading of Eichmann, it seems, cannot easily escape producing "thoughtlessness" as an absence of empathy or rendering what she argued was a political failure (a question of solidarity) as primarily a moral one (a question of sentiment).